Zarkandar Battles to Aintree Prize
1 Zarkandar 11/2
Trainer Paul Nicholls was adamant that the ‘real’ Zarkandar had turned up today after the 11/2 shot battled well to deny The New One by half a length in the Grade One John Smith’s Aintree Hurdle.
The six-year-old was beaten six and three quarter lengths behind Hurricane Fly in the Stan James Champion Hurdle last time o
ut but the combination of the Aintree track and a return to two-and-a-half miles certainly seemed to eke out some improvement.
The six-year-old was also fitted with blinkers this afternoon for the first time since his days on the level over in France and Nicholls was certain that the headgear made all the difference.
“The blinkers seem to have worked really well today as he can get a bit lazy in his races but they’ve kept him interested the whole way round and he’s battled really well to get his head in front,” said Nicholls.
“I’ve always thought that he might benefit from some headgear but he kept on winning earlier on in the season so I left them off.
“However, I thought he gave up a bit too easily in the Champion Hurdle as he went from having a really promising position coming down the hill to being off the bridle in a matter of strides.
“It’s always a bit difficult to make ground up at Cheltenham after something like that and being a bit of a character sometimes, I just thought he took the easy way out.
“He seems to be a completely different horse with the blinkers (when worked three days ago & today) on so we’ll stick with them from now onwards. He’ll definitely get a trip in time and we’re go up to three miles rather than drop back down to two.
“His pedigree is all about staying so that’s where we’ll go from here. I might start him off at two-and-a-half miles to begin with next season but he’ll step up after that.”
WALSH HOPEFUL THAT ZARKANDAR IS A FUTURE STAYING STAR
Zarkandar, a faller in the John Smith’s Aintree Hurdle last year, atoned for that setback with a gritty half-length victory over The New One in this year’s race to give Ruby Walsh his first success of the 2013 John Smith’s Grand National meeting.
Walsh said: “He’s tough. Paul [Nicholls, trainer] said the other week that he thought that the blinkers would make a difference on him. He jumped like a buck but when he had to knuckle down he did. He got a good breather down the back and then rolled on.
“I’m lucky. I’m 33 and I ride for two people who don’t tie me down. When I got down to the start and there was no pace, I decided to make the running. That’s how it is when I ride for Paul Nicholls and it’s the same for Willie Mullins. That is a privileged position to be in as a jockey because you can make your own plan and it allows you to do things like that.
“When you do it, they have the confidence in you that you are doing things for the right reason and when you win you are a hero but when you get beat you have questions to answer. Thankfully, it worked today.”
With Zarkandar now halved in price by Coral to 5/1 for next year’s Ladbrokes World Hurdle, Walsh said of the potential stayer: “It’s natural for a Triumph Hurdle winner to want to go further as they get older. To get two miles and a furlong round that stiff track as a four-year-old means that they’re a type that would tend to want a trip. I have no doubt that he’ll stay.”
Referring to conditions underfoot, the jockey added: “It’s Catch-22 when you’ve been riding on such heavy ground that when it dries up a bit you can think it’s a bit better than it is, but it’s riding good on the three I’ve ridden. The lads say it’s riding a bit dead and it probably is.”
A bold attempt by connections of novice The New One, the 11/4 favourite, to win this Grade One hurdle ended in narrow defeat.
The five-year-old was upsides winner Zarkandar at the last, and then gave his all on the run-in before losing out by half a length. Another length and a quarter back in third was Thousand Stars, who had been runner-up in this race in the previous two years.
Nigel Twiston-Davies, who trains The New One, said: “We’d won everywhere except the last 100 yards, and so a drop back to two miles might help him. The horse ran a superb race and pinged the hurdles – he was long at one, but that’s what you’ve got to do at a few.
“The Champion Hurdler [Hurricane Fly] has got to be worried. Our horse has proved up to this class and I’m sorry for him and everyone involved that he’s been beaten. He’s only narrowly been beaten and he’s probably earned more for doing that than he would by winning the novices’ hurdle [the John Smith’s Mersey Novices’ Hurdle on Saturday]. We’ve got a very nice horse. That’s it for this season.”
He added: “He always runs well in this race and Paul [Townend] did a good job by just sitting in behind Ruby [on the winner] and getting the horse to jump well. I don’t think we could have found a length anywhere.
“He likes this drier ground and when he was last of six at Navan last time the ground was very gluey. Ruby said he was beaten after half a mile.
“He’ll go to Punchestown next and then to Auteuil.”
John Smith's Aintree Hurdle
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